Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Albert Park

Albert Park in the centre of Auckland is – I think - a typically Victorian design. The Victorians loved overstuffing their houses with bulky furniture and a lurid array of dust-collectors (ornaments). Similarly, Albert Park is overflowing with statuary, cannons, a rotunda and vibrant flower-beds. My favourite is the flower clock, which was paid for by the founder of Farmers department stores in 1953.

However, the banks of cheery flowers are but a painted-on smile, for Albert Park used to be a favoured spot for all shades of deviant acts and those intent on bidding adieu to the mortal coil.

Clock of Doom

The first reported suicide in the park was in 1893, and after that, self-inflicted death by revolver (two in 1904), hanging, poison (carbolic acid, Lysol, ‘Rough on Rats’ rat-killer), and various of unknown causes, became rather commonplace over the next few decades.

In 1888, Sir Charles Wentworth Burdett, seventh baronet of Benthwaite, was spotted carrying roses in the park by a policeman, who queried as to where the blooms were acquired. Sir Charles denied picking them from the public garden, but was arrested nonetheless.

Crime scene

In court, it was shown that the sole of his boot matched that of a print left in the flowerbed, and a rose expert was called in to testify that the roses the accused had clutched in his hand were the same species as that planted in the park. Sir Charles was convicted to fourteen days hard labour.

Governor Grey attempted to save the baronet from this ignoble fate, but the judge countered that such an educated man ought to be made an example of. Apparently the example made was an imperfect one – flower thefts continued unabated, but pilferers thereafter removed their boots to do so.

Poor Sir Charles! The aristocratic title belies his impoverished existence – having been a dashing captain in the army during the Waikato war, then a member of the police-force, he fell on hard times. He was described as “often with shoeless feet and a battered hat, picking up a precarious subsistence by stripping bark from trees, cooking for bushmen, and doing odd jobs about squatters' stations.” By the time of his conviction, he was no stranger to the walls and bars, having experience the dubious charms of the debtors prison.

Such a tragic image – the shoeless tramp with his bunch of stolen blooms. The sentence signalled the beginning of the end. Two years later, he became a resident in the most unfortunately titled 'Costley Home for the Aged Poor,' and died in 1892 at the age of sixty-five.

Facts gathered from the fabulous resource, Papers Past, a collection of New Zealand newspapers dated from 1840 to 1915.


Elijah Lineberry said...

Ahhhh...gosh..those were the days!

Lita said...

Fascinating stuff. I heart Albert Park too. Central city parks are always winners. I love seeing the green of the park from the top of Vic St ridge.

I'm itching to know what building the Costley Home for the Aged Poor was in. Bet it is a fairly costly home for the not so poor and aged now.

Anonymous said...

Pop Sir Charles name into Google and go to Burkes Peerage He was the 7th Bt He had a son who went to Otago Uni and became a Doctor So why did they leave the old codger in the Costly House?

d-man said...

Damn thief! He should have been stripped of his title.

And if they could do that for flower nickers, they should introduce hand severing for graffiti artists.

Useful link, by the way.

Mark said...

Suicides in Albert Park?

To hear the people around here, the only suicide magnet in the world is the Golden Gate Bridge so we need to erect a barrier to keep the potential suicides safe from themselves.

Personally, I'm in favor of installing diving boards and a cameras so their loved ones will have a nice pictorial record of their final moments.

Mrs Smith said...

Lita - the Costley Home for Aged Poor is now... Greenlane Hospital! And good work Anonymous - should I start the Mrs Smith Detective Agency, you can be my trusty sidekick.